Lost may have been the TV show that made filming in Hawaii cool, but the island state has become a popular filming location in the years since. Hawaii Five-0 films there. The upcoming Jumanji reboot movie used the exotic exteriors as the backdrop for the video game its young characters get pulled into. And now The Inhumans calls the beautiful locale home, the show’s main characters forced there after a miltary coup has them thrown out of their Moon-based city of Attilan.
That set-up alone might seem to make Inhumans a hard narrative sell. It’s hard to muster up too much sympathy for the Moon’s one-percenters forced to live on an island paradise. But the Royal Family’s chief struggle comes in another, more relatable form: the challenge of keeping their family together amidst betrayal, exodus, and the responsibility that comes with wielding extreme power.
An exploration of the responsibilities of power.
Black Bolt (played in the TV show by Hell on Wheel‘s Anson Mount) is one of the most powerful superhumans in the comic book world, but his power comes at great personal cost. The sound of his voice can destroy entire cities. An escaped whisper could kill the people around him, including the people he loves. His power is a blunt, indiscriminate instrument.
“[Black Bolt] can’t lose control or bad shit happens,” Mount says. “So, I think that the character’s immediately endearing to us because he’s a leader who is aware of the power of his own voice, and that’s what makes the role work.”
If The Inhumans leans into it, this theme of the responsibility of power could be a defining and compelling characteristic for the show. In a time when some of the world’s most powerful people seem to have so little appreciation for the potentially destructive consequences of their decisions, Black Bolt is a leader who would rather stay silent than risk hurting the innocent. He does not revel in his power, and that makes him something of an anomaly within the fictional superhero worlds and in the real world alike.
Will we ever hear Black Bolt speak? It seems inevitable (and we have some clues in the trailer), but Mount would not give anything away, instead saying: “I think it would be a boring show if suddenly my character started talking regularly. They can’t. I mean, he sneezes, he blows half the world away, it’s that powerful.”
For Mount, he doesn’t mind keeping quiet as Black Bolt. The challenge of playing a show’s lead who doesn’t speak is one of the elements that drew him to the role. “When else am I going to get that opportunity?” Mount said.
A family drama first and foremost.
While much of the reaction to the first Inhumans trailer centered around how the individual characters of the show measure up against their comic book counterparts, it quickly became apparent during our set visit that this show is as interested in the complicated relationships between the members of this family as it is in the struggle of individual superheroes.
Serinda Swan’s Medusa — a woman with the psychokinetic ability to animate and control her hair — stands poised to be one of the breakout characters of this show. We were lucky enough to see an early rendering of Medusa’s hair in action during our set visit, as well as to hear Swan speak about what draws her to the character.
I love her because she’s very powerful. She’s very independent. She doesn’t get lost. Even though she’s speaking for the king [Black Bolt], she doesn’t get lost within his thoughts.
Married to Black Bolt, Medusa is as much a leader as her husband. He relies on her voice, judgment, and perspective to help lead their people.
“There’s a duality between her and Black Bolt that I don’t think has necessarily been seen before,” Swan says, who notes that the story of their “super-marriage” is relatively unique within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “There’s an immense codependence between the two between two very independent people.”
This “codependence” is developed at an early age. The Inhumans aren’t born with their powers. They go through a process called Terrigenesis at the age of 14. When they are exposed to the Terrigen Mist, their innate powers are revealed. (A similar plot was undertaken on Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, but, unlike that show, Terrigenesis is a normal part of the Royal Family’s culture.)
“When Black Bolt goes through his Terrigenesis at 14 and loses the use of his voice, there’s that acceptance that he’s never gonna be able to speak again,” explains Swan. “There’s massive loss with his parents, there’s everything. And so there’s this isolation and one of the reasons I love Medusa is that she doesn’t care that he can kill her with a whisper and she walks right into his chamber and starts a friendship.”
Black Bolt must create his own sign language to communicate what he is thinking and feeling. He does this with Medusa by his side. Swan elaborates:
They have this symbiosis that keeps them intertwined, which I love. And so, obviously, through childhood, they create this language together. Then, they get married. She becomes the queen and he becomes the king and, through her, he can rule. Because, without her, he can’t. There’s nobody to talk to. I mean, he could, but then it gets really lonely after he talks.
Another day, another game of thrones.
The main trifecta of the Royal Family is rounded out by Black Bolt’s power-hungry brother Maximus (played here by an actor who has experience playing power-hungry — Game of Thrones‘ Iwan Rheon).
Maximus is an antagonist in the Inhumans comics, often betraying his brother and the rest of the Royal Family in attempts to rule Attilan. From the mention of a “military coup” dropped in the official Inhumans TV show synopsis and the story beats teased in the trailer, it seems that Inhumans is poised to follow this common comic story beat.
Past that, Rheon teased that Maximus will be the “runt” of the Inhumans Royal Family, his relative lack of power resulting in a chip on his shoulder he’s had since he was young.
Everyone kind of looks down on Maximus because he’s a human so he’s not really got any power, he’s kind of looks on as a bit of a runt of the family which is kind of hard for him.
Without his brother he’d be working down the mines, it’s just that his brother, because he’s the King’s brother, he got pity, basically. His function in society has come to him through pity and what his family name is rather his own self-worth and what his Terrigenesis made him. It’s a very difficult thing for him to deal with and he’s had to live with his own life
In the comic, Maximus hides his superhuman psychic powers. It’s unclear, as of yet, if this will be the case in the TV show. If Maximus is hiding his powers, he’s playing it very close to the vest.
Maximus’ potential villainy is further influenced by his unrequited love for Medusa, another story beat seen in the comics.
I think the relationship between [Maximus] and Medusa is very interesting as well because, in this story, they were very good friends when they were younger and I think Maximus always had a bit of a thing for her, thinking that, you know, one day maybe they’d be together and maybe even be on the throne together.
Then for her to go off with Black Bolt is kind of always kind of been a bit of an issue for him as it’s obviously hurt so that’s going to be a very interesting relationship to develop, but they’re amicable.
Rheon, too, played up the family dynamics of this cast of characters, saying: “There’s plenty of action in this but what’s wonderful about it is very much a family drama as well, it’s about the family and their relationships and how they all respond to each other and there are wonderful moments of humor as well as drama and action so it’s kind of go to everything.”
Meet the rest of the Inhumans family.
While Black Bolt, Medusa, and Maximus lead the Royal Family in various ways, the Attilan gang extends beyond the three leaders.
Australian actress Isabelle Cornish plays Crystal, Medusa’s sister and an Inhuman with the ability to control the weather. (Maybe that‘s why Hawaii is always so pleasant.) Cornish said of her character:
Being the youngest member, [Crystal]’s really coming of age and the journey of really coming into her adulthood and discovering more of her powers and things like that. And she has a 2,000-pound, teleporting, transporting dog.
That would be Lockjaw, a giant dog with the ability to teleport himself and others across vast distances. In making our way through the Inhumans TV show set, it was interesting to note the ways in which the already large sets needed to be made larger to accomodate a 2,000-pound dog. (The show has a scale model of the dog. Giant and blue, it stands in for Lockjaw on set so the director can know how the CGI dog will affect the shot.)
Lost alum Ken Leung plays Karnak, one of the cousins of the Royal Family. Leung explained his character’s power to us as it manifests in the TV show:
Karnak has the ability to see the flaw in everything and everyone. Whether it be a person that he’s fighting, he can analyze the situation and figure out the most effective way to take him down. Whether it be a wall, what is the flaw in a physical structure, if I wanted to do something with that.
It could be in an argument, if we’re debating, you can see the flaw in your defense. So, it makes him the perfect strategist and advisor to the king, so that’s his position in addition to being part of the family in the kingdom.
Apparently, Karnak’s power does not prevent the Royal Family from becoming refugees in Hawaii follwing a military coup. (Sorrynotsorry, Karnak.)
On the other end of the cautious-decisive spectrum is Gorgon, another one of Black Bolt’s cousins (how many cousins does this guy have?) and the leader of the Attilan miltary. With super strong legs and hooves, Gorgon can generate seismic waves with a single stomp.
Eme Ikwuakor (Extant) described the character past his superhuman strength:
I’m actually the head of the Attilan military. Basically, I’m the guy who kind of acts before he thinks. Lot of fun. He gets to push the boundaries, which is amazing.
Triton (Mike Moh), pictured above, is one of the Inhumans characters who is probably going to have the most trouble keeping a low profile on Earth. Another cousin of Black Bolt, Triton has a “fish-like ability to live underwater.” He also keeps his cool under pressure and is very athletic.
Sonya Balmores plays Auran. She described her character like this:
I’m the head of the Royal Guard. I work really closely with the Royal Family and I’m fiercely loyal to the King of Attilan. Yeah, I’m one of the soldiers. I’m tough. I’m no nonsense. I get the job done, whatever the job might be.
In the comics, Auran has parabolic hearing, which means she can listen in for specific words on Earth, zero-ing in on their location if they are spoken. On one occasion, this is how she finds a missing Black Bolt, by searching of the word “Maximus.” (I guess there weren’t a lot of people watching Ridley Scott’s Gladiator when she was listening.)
There’s been no mention of Auran having any superpower in the TV show, and Balmores made no mention of it, but I am desperately pulling for this to make an appearance on-screen. I’ll be sure to keep my ear to the ground.
To be continued…
Stay tuned to Den of Geek for more details from our Inhumans set visit — including information about the mysterious character Ellen Woglom will be playing and insight into the IMAX-led filming of the first two episodes.
A version of the first two episodes of The Inhumans premieres exclusively in IMAX theaters for a two-week engagement starting September 1st. After that, the show will have its official ABC two-hour premiere on September 29th starting at 8 p.m. ET.